Fasting might seem like a fad diet or trend, but it has actually been around forever. In fact, fasting has been a part of multiple cultures and traditions in human history. People fast for religious reasons, health reasons, and even political reasons.
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What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Modern science has recognized the potential physiological benefits of intermittent fasting (IF).
Intermittent fasting is an umbrella term for any method of scheduling your meals so that you cycle between periods of fasting and non-fasting. One of the great things about IF is that it is completely adaptable to each individual’s needs and lifestyle!
Who should try intermittent fasting?
Typically, people try intermittent fasting as a strategy for losing weight and improving overall health.
Keep in mind that there are many different ways to fast. Each body works and responds differently. Your intermittent fasting diet plan might be different from someone else you know who is doing IF – and that’s okay!
As with any other major change to your diet, it is always a good idea to speak with your doctor or nutritionist to confirm that your body is healthy enough to make this particular change. Individuals who have a history of eating disorders should also discuss IF with their healthcare provider and therapist before starting.
This being said, most people can safely and effectively implement an intermittent fasting plan into their lives.
Because IF does come with some side effects, I recommend trying a few different approaches before settling on the right one for you. Listen to your body and its needs as you adjust to this new way of eating.
5 Options for Intermittent Fasting
When it comes to IF, there is no “one size fits all” diet plan. In fact, that’s a good rule for diet and nutrition in general!
There are several different plans that fall under the umbrella of intermittent fasting. My recommendation is to try one and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, you can always change to something else that may be a better match!
Here are the 5 most common methods of intermittent fasting.
16:8 Intermittent Fasting
This very common approach gives your body a fasting time of 16 hours. Most people on this plan will finish eating dinner and then fast again until mid-day the next day. For example, if you finished dinner at 8pm, you would not eat again until the next day at noon.
Basically, this plan means no after-dinner or late night snacks, and you skip breakfast.
5:2 Intermittent Fasting
On two consecutive days within each week, you only eat 25% of the daily recommended calories for your age and sex. This means that 5 days a week, you eat a completely unrestricted diet.
Alternate Day Fasting
This approach is just like it sounds: one or two days each week, you complete a 24-hour fast. You will need to keep drinking water during your fasting days so that you don’t become dehydrated.
12:12 Intermittent Fasting
For most people, this is the safest and most approachable option. For this method, you only eat during a 12-hour window of the day. The other 12 hours are fasting hours. Your fasting time allows your body to digest everything, rest, and repair.
Using this method, if you finish eating dinner at 6pm, you would not eat again until 6am. One of the best things about this method is that it follows your body’s natural circadian rhythm, mirroring the rising and setting of the sun. This is the perfect IF diet for a beginner.
Fasting Mimicking Diet
Use this approach to reduce your caloric intake up to 30% of your recommended calories each day for 5 consecutive days that week. Some people use this strategy as a “reset” once a month or just a few times a year.
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How IF Works
When you hear people talk about IF, you have probably heard all about the immediate weight loss – targeting the stubborn belly fat. But how does when you eat cause such a dramatic change?
The answer can be found in the processes of digestion and insulin production.
When you eat food that breaks down into sugar (glucose), your pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that helps you store food in your liver and muscles.
When there is no room left in these places, the food is stored in your fat cells instead. It stays there as long as your insulin levels remain high.
When your body is in a fasting state, the lack of meals and snacking reduces your insulin and blood pressure levels. This makes it possible for your fat cells to release that glucose and use it as energy. This aids in weight loss.
The bottom line is this: you should fast long enough to allow your insulin levels to go down for an extended period of time. When that happens, it becomes much easier for your body to burn off extra fat.
Benefits & Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting
A few benefits of intermittent fasting include:
- IF may lead to a longer life
- IF has been shown to reduce your risk of pre-diabetes and diabetes, decrease inflammation, ease depression, and help your brain function better by eliminating protein build-up and cellular debris
- IF may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
- IF has been shown to potentially slow the growth of cancer
Despite these health benefits, it’s important to consider the potential side effects of any major change in your diet.
Intermittent fasting may lead to:
- Dehydration (especially if you don’t drink enough water during your fasting period)
- Low energy
- Sleep disruption
- Digestive issues
If you begin to experience side effects that are concerning to you, take a break from IF and speak with your doctor.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?
Intermittent fasting is only successful when paired with a healthy diet that is rich in colorful plants, protein, healthy fat, and fiber. If you are fasting regularly and eating poorly during your non-fasting period, you are more likely to experience negative side effects and nutritional imbalances.
Intermittent Fasting is, in general, safe. However, the following individuals should not use IF as a diet or weight loss strategy:
- Anyone under the age of 18
- People who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- People with Type 1 Diabetes who use insulin
Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes can safely fast under their doctor’s supervision.
The Key to Intermittent Fasting
There is empirical research related to each of the different fasting techniques I’ve mentioned above. Overall, they have similar benefits. It mostly comes down to what works best for you and your schedule. On your way to achieve the needed result you can buy dietary supplements.
The most common way to fast is the 16:8 method because it’s simply eating dinner earlier and eating breakfast later, which tends to be pretty easy for people to get on board with. Watch my interview with Dr. Frank Lipman to learn more about this.
I had another conversation on Instagram LIVE on how intermittent fasting can benefit everything from your immune health, to your gut health, to your brain health with Dr. Will Cole. Watch it here!
Again, the key to IF is to find a style of eating that works for you. Maybe that means fasting regularly, maybe it means fasting once a year, or maybe fasting is not for you – and that is okay!
The most important thing is to focus on listening to your intuition and listening to your body, which is your greatest teacher.
XO – Serena